Lead Paint Recalls Affecting Toy Drives

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Millions of toys have been recalled in 2007, many due to unsafe levels of lead paint, causing a major impact on toy drives around the country. Maj. George Hood of the Salvation Army tells listeners how they can help holiday toy drives.


All week, we've been talking about ways to enjoy the holiday season. And one way many people celebrate the holidays is by giving to others, especially toys to kids who otherwise would not have them. But what to do in a year when millions of toys have been recalled - 25 million during the fiscal year of 2007 according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about a third due to inappropriate levels of lead paint. So how are those who organize donated toys coping with the challenge?

Joining us now to talk about this in our Washington, D.C., studio is Major George Hood of the Salvation Army. Welcome, major. Thanks for coming.

Major GEORGE HOOD (Salvation Army): Thank you. It's great to be here.

MARTIN: So major, just how long has the Salvation Army been organizing these toy drives?

Maj. HOOD: We've been giving away toys for about 125 years, so it's a very long time. But I have to tell you, we've never experienced anything like we have this year with the massive recall of toys that has become a real distraction for what we like to do during the Christmas season.

MARTIN: Just give me a sense of how many toys do you think the Salvation Army tries to collect in one year?

Maj. HOOD: We estimate that we probably give away approximately three million toys to children all across the United States, and it's a way that we can, in a very practical manner, make Christmas joyous for underprivileged children.

MARTIN: Three million toys. So I'm guessing, you know, you're not like me. You're not going to run out this weekend with a cart and see what's left at the toy store, I bet you.

Maj. HOOD: No. We actually purchase - when we purchase toys, we do it during the summer, and actually go to wholesale distribution points and buy in bulk volume so that we have an ample supply.

MARTIN: And I should just mention, parents, if there are any little ears in the car, we're just talking about helping Santa. We're not substituting for Santa.

Maj. HOOD: That's correct. That's correct.

MARTIN: I just want to clarify that. Okay.

So you start in the summer. So that must be very complicated, because these recalls have been happening all year long.

Maj. HOOD: Yeah. And that's why I say it's become a major distraction, because many toys were already purchased. We also get tremendous amounts of donated toys that typically come in all year long, and they're warehoused and stored until the Christmas season rolls around. And this year, we've had to go back through all of this inventory just to check that list twice to make sure that we had weeded out all of the toys that are on the recall list.

MARTIN: Have you got any idea of how many toys you either already had in stock waiting to be distributed that you're not going to be able to distribute?

Maj. HOOD: No, I really don't have an idea of that because it's all spread out in communities across the United States. Fortunately, we're finding very few. I was in New York City, and the bin that had recalled toys, there were only five or six toys in there.

And we do believe that the major retailers where the consumers will shop to donate toys to our Angel Tree programs has been the frontline of defense, and so they've kind of cleaned off their shelves. What we have been going through is the toys that were held in inventory that we've had to sift through. And, of course, the other side of this story is we have many toys that are donated to our thrift stores. And going through them as they come in on the trucks to be placed in thrift store shelves has been very difficult.

MARTIN: Are there any particular types of toys you would urge people to avoid, or are there any particular types of toys you really want people to donate?

Maj. HOOD: Many of the donors want to be extravagant in what they give, and we really counsel people to back off on extravagance, because there could be many children in that household. And if one child gets a brand new bicycle and another child gets a baseball, it really creates an uncomfortable environment for that family. So we ask you to be practical - games, typical toys that kids like to play, stuffed animals. There's plenty of options out there in the shelf. And educational games is one of the things that we really do encourage people to get, because it helps children develop while they're also enjoying the magic of getting a Christmas present.

MARTIN: So what can people do if they want to be helpful to you at this time?

Maj. HOOD: Well, if they buy at a local retailer and when they donate a toy, we're asking please give us an unwrapped new toy. For our Angel Tree programs, people love to wrap those gifts up. And they come in by the thousands upon thousands, and they're already wrapped and decorated to be given to designated families. This year, we have to unwrap all of those toys to make sure that we're not circulating one that's on the recall list.

MARTIN: And if you have an urge to wrap, please feel free to come to my house…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …and help me out. I'd be more than glad to help you there.

Maj. HOOD: Exactly.

MARTIN: But that's shame. Do you have any idea how many person hours, how much volunteer time you're having to spend unwrapping toys…

Maj. HOOD: Yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: …that have already been wrapped?

Maj. HOOD: It's enormous. We have three and a half million volunteers across the United States. And this year, usually at this time, we're looking for bell ringers, and we're just pleading for people to come out and volunteer some time. It'll make you feel good. It's great to be out in the cold and greeting shoppers. But this year, we've had to extend that to seek toy sorters.

MARTIN: I'm guessing some people might be saying, gosh, I would like to donate a toy, but I don't remember all these toys on the recall list. I don't - I certainly don't carry it around with me - how would I know?

Maj. HOOD: Yeah. It's interesting, because just today, my wife bought this little toy for our 4-month-old baby grandson. And I said to her, where's this toy made? And she said I have no idea. Well, look on the box. She says it was made in China. And I said, have you checked it against the recall list? No, where is it? In every Salvation Army facility, we have taken off of Web sites all of the recalled toys and we've printed them out in color, and we've pasted those up to the walls of every distribution center. And each volunteer will pick up a gift. They will go to that wall and they will look for this toy by identification or by serial code, what have you, to see if it's on the list. And if it is, it goes into the out of distribution bin. If they can't find it on any of these lists, then it goes into circulation to be given away.

MARTIN: Wow. That's a lot of work. Well, thank you for all your hard work.

Maj. HOOD: Well, you know, we're kind of accustomed to busy times and hard work at Christmas, and in the end, we make a lot of people happy.

MARTIN: Major George Hood of the Salvation Army joined us here in the studio in Washington. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Maj. HOOD: Oh, it's my pleasure.

MARTIN: And happy holiday.

Maj. HOOD: Happy holiday to you, and to those who believe, Merry Christmas.

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